PROJECT: Above Zero

"Above Zero", Greenland, 2007-2008

I show portraits of meltwater rivers that are increasingly appearing on the ice due to global warming. These were produced on two expeditions during which I traveled 450 km on foot in the melt zone of the Greenland Inland Ice with a companion. I accompanied and documented the work of climate researchers collecting data on climate changes and the layers of ice that are melting away on the Greenland Inland Ice with my large format camera. I was also able to visit the only place in Greenland where tourists can encounter the Inland Ice and find traces of climate change. This series depicts how nature reacts causally to climate change and how these developments are confronted by humans.

“Olaf Otto Becker: Above Zero”

Becker’s work is deeply imbedded in the essence and laboriousness of photography’s origins. Etymologically speaking, “photography” literally means “drawing with light,” the sun’s rays as graphic stylus.  The images in “Above Zero” literalize that original denotation.  The ice flats, which lay endlessly before Becker’s camera, like the white of photographic paper, register the sun’s rays in lines of flowing water, in rivers of melted snow and ice.  The resulting images are all constituted through the same effects of the sun, but they represent an infinite variety of possible forms.  The ethereal blues of shallow river flows contrast with dark black rivulets of dust and soot which have absorbed the warmth of the sun and melted into the snow, creating cylindrical holes and striations that appear like abstract graphics. These elements fulfill the potential suggested by Becker’s previous work in Iceland and on Greenland’s coast, that of a landscape photographically defined.  The processes of photography and the forces that affect the landscape are so intimately related that they appear merged in these images.  The lines and forms that appear on film and photographic paper emerge in water and liquid baths.  The same is true of the actual setting in which Becker takes these photographs. It is stunningly apparent that Becker’s photographs would quite literally be blank, as though remaining in the form of undeveloped photo paper, if not for the water which gives form and creates the discernable lines, colors and contours of the landscape itself.  This is photography at its most intimate, at its most present.

Further invoking the essences of photography, Becker’s use of large format cameras, employed in settings that are nearly inaccessible, harkens back to the days of nineteenth century photographers like Carlton Watkins and Timothy O’Sullivan, before the snapshot camera, when the photographer was an explorer and laborer who had to painstakingly, and delicately, haul his equipment across treacherous terrain.  That laboriousness is underscored by Becker’s images of a Swiss research camp.  Situated in the middle of the desolate landscape, the introduction of man and man made objects appears so stunningly highlighted and seemingly out of place that their being brought there seems almost incomprehensible.  Furthermore, and in the same spirit as those adventurous nineteenth century landscape photographers, Becker’s images beg environmental awareness and caution.  They plead on behalf of a world being dramatically affected by climactic change, of literally being over-developed and washing away completely.

Olaf Otto Becker has exhibited widely in Germany, Europe and the United States.  Above Zero has been nominated for the 2009 German Photo-book Prize.  In 2007, his previous publication, Broken Line, won the German Photo-Book Prize and his book Under the Nordic Light was nominated for best book at the Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie, Arles.

Paul Amador, New York 2009